Fixing Broad & Washington

Recently a plan came out for the northwest corner of Broad and Washington, an important intersection. This site is the historic location of the Baltimore Railroad, most of which is demolished, except for a train shed on the corner on 15th and Carpenter. Given this historic train shed, the developers have sought to place a one-story structure on Broad St to preserve the viewshed of this architecturally interesting building.

However, this one story stub does little to actually provide any connection to the trainshed, or even visual cues. As a proof of concept, I created a massing model of a one story structure and evaluated the views of the trainshed both from the east side of Broad St and west side of Broad St. As you can see, there one story stub blocks most of the views, eliminating its usefulness.

View of the trainshed from the west side of Broad Street. Basically, there is no view.

View of the trainshed from the west side of Broad Street. Basically, there is no view.

You can only see the very top of the building from the opposing street

You can only see the very top of the building from the opposing street

What Should Be Done Here

Rather than have a small one story structure here, the developer should develop the land to provide a green, open space that would draw pedestrians from Broad St to a trainshed market, serve to manage stormwater, and allow for a much better view of the trainshed.

Mashup of Hawthorne Park for what could be.

Mashup of Hawthorne Park for what could be.

Why The Developer Should Do This

It's important when proposing changes to a developer's plan to find ways that will help, rather than hinder, the financial likelihood of success. And fortunately, this recommended change allows the developer to have better financial footing than the one-story plan.

The first financial reason is stormwater management. New construction on large sites like this are mandated to manage the first 1" of stormwater runoff. On this site, over 100,000 gallons of stormwater will be generated from the first 1" of stormwater runoff. Even if the parking garage has a green roof, as proposed, it only covers less than 1/3rd of the runoff. The remaining 70,000 gallons need to be managed. One option is underground tanks, and presumably what the developer is currently proposing. The other option, if this layout is used, is to utilize a portion of the site for stormwater rain gardens. Doing so would beautify the site and accomplish the goal of managing stormwater runoff with less cost than an underground tank.


The second reason the developer should do this is because it makes better business sense for the trainshed retail market. As currently proposed behind a one story building, it feels detached from Broad St, limiting foot traffic and the corridor connection. This will be especially important once the 1,500+ units come online across the street. An open pedestrian plaza will increase the tenant retention and become a destination to locate a business, seen as a prime location along Broad St, rather than tucked away on 15th and Carpenter.

Why Neighbors Should Support This Plan

A pedestrian plaza here would allow for additional outdoor market space in the summer for these retailers, allow for outdoor seating, and bring much needed green space to the neighborhood.

The success of retail at the trainshed depends on its connection to this development, the overall neighborhood, and important corridors. With the current plan to tuck it away behind a generic one-story retail box, the market stands little opportunity for success. If, however, the trainshed is elevated to a location people see and want to go to, a thriving market can start, providing small-businesses with a low rent market location ala Reading Terminal Market.  

Rather than a generic one-story structure here, which will support only one use, most likely a low-end retailer like The Dollar Store, this structure would provide limited use. A pedestrian plaza would be dynamic, allowing for multiple uses, serve as a neighborhood gathering space, and develop an important 'Third Place' in the neighborhood connected to the trainshed market.

Why The City Should Support This Plan

PIDC, a quasi-public-private company, is the owner of the majority of this land. It is in the city's best interest that this site be appropriately developed, not only for the sake of this parcel, but for this important corridor. If it wants to see the trainshed market succeed, an appropriate entrance needs to be developed for this site. Without it, the trainshed will languish. If this parcel languishes and includes generic one story structures, we'll continue to see out-of-character one story structures line Broad St. If however, these developers get it right, it'll serve as an example and anchor to fixing Broad Street and Washington Ave. Now is the time to get it right and the PIDC should settle for no less than the best for this key corridor, as it will set the example for years to come.


Water Taxis to the Navy Yard are already here

Water taxis have not been on my mind as a connection for the Navy Yard. Most Navy Yard transit discussion revolves around a multi-decade Broad Street Line extension. Water taxis were brought up in the UrbanPHL group by Jeff H. as an immediate solution and one that many other cities use. My first reaction was to brush this plan aside, as I presumed that capital costs for this service would make this plan impossible. However, once I started digging deeper, I had to change my position. This may be one of the most potent, realistic ideas for shovel ready service out of any transit plan. Rather than extensive capital costs, all components are already in place, fully funded, waiting to be put to use. If done right, there are no additional capital expenditures and all operating costs are fully funded.

The Fleet

Photo Courtesy of WilliamPennmanship

The fleet is composed of three new, underutilized water shuttles looking for a purpose. After a decade of sitting in a warehouse, The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) is the recent owner of three water taxis. Long story short, but in the early 2000's, the now defunct Penn's Landing Corporation purchased three of these custom made ships. Once the Penn's Landing plans and corporation went belly up, they were transferred to the DRPA. With no plans or money to build out the required docks, these water taxis sat in a warehouse for 10 years under DRPA ownership. They've now been transferred to the DRWC, who will now operate this service along with the larger RiverLink ferry. Federal funding was recently secured and docks were constructed along the waterfront, allowing them to be finally put to use.

Not familiar with these shuttles, their capabilities, and their cruising speed, I dug around the internet and eventually identified the spec sheet for these boats. They were manufactured by Bentz Manufacturing out of Idaho, who provide some details on their website for these boats and their other shuttles. The specs for the ship are no longer online, but fortunately, a Wayback search found the archived PDF.


The amenities for these boats are a perfect fit for a Navy Yard service, as they're fully heated and air-conditioned, allowing for year-round use. The boats seat 24 passengers, a good size to start a small shuttle service. With three shuttles and factoring in a few extra minutes for loading/unloading, these ships could provide 20 minute headways using the existing fleet.

The big question is how long a trip would take. The boat cruises at 14 knots (16.1mph) and a top speed of 20 knots (23 mph). The current RiverLink port at Penn's Landing to the Navy Yard is 5.84 miles. Averaging cruising speed, it'd take 22 minutes for a one-way trip. Express shuttle bus service ranges from 15-25 minutes, so it's a very comparable trip time. It should be noted that many water taxis can perform faster than this speed, so any future upgrades would decrease the trip time. 

The great news is these water taxis will see little to no use during Navy Yard business hours, allowing them to easily be put to use. The current intention for these water taxis is to supplement ferry service, particularly during BB&T [Susquehanna Bank] Center shows, according to Emma Fried-Cassorla, DWRPC spokesperson, in a Billy Penn article. The current concert listing for this year consists of weekend concerts and a few Friday evening shows that start at 7PM. Other than shuttles for concerts, it seems that the current intended use of these water taxis is for tourism, rather than for business. Therefore, during prime commuting hours, there will be little interest in using these water taxis, providing for a great dual use of this asset. Indeed, in reviewing other city's water taxis, most are put to use both for tourism and commuting.

The Stops

Using pre-existing stops, the time to implementation can be shortened and costs reduced. With a Federal Transit Fund grant, 3 additional docks were built along the Delaware:  Hilton Hotel at Penn’s Landing, Market Street and near Dave and Buster’s on Columbus Boulevard, in addition to the existing RiverLink stop at the base of Walnut St. Surveys or trials could be performed to identify the best potential location. With 4 docks to choose from, there is no shortage of origination docks.

For the Navy Yard stop, a pre-existing ferry dock can be utilized. This dock was used by the League Island Ferry Company to bring workers from New Jersey to the Navy Yard until the yard closed. This ferry stop, at the foot of Broad Street, is only a 30 second walk to Urban Outfitters headquarters. This strong connection to Urban Outfitters provides a great sponsorship opportunity.

For those whose offices are not right at the foot of the dock, an Indego station should be placed at the dock location. From this dock location, all core locations could be reached in 3 minutes by bike or 10 minutes walking, including the northernmost company, GSK. In addition, an Indego station should be placed at the Center City dock to facilitate simple trip transfers.

The Winners

The water taxi connection to the Navy Yard has significant value for all parties involved: The Navy Yard, DWRC, the corporate sponsor, and surrounding neighborhoods. For the Navy Yard, this connection provides a tangible connection to the river and Center City. It brings the riverfront component to the Navy Yard. Many enjoy ferry rides as a peaceful ride to reconnect with nature in an urban environment, much more so than the existing I-95 shuttle bus service. For DWRC, this venture opens up additional funding streams from corporate sponsors that would not otherwise be feasible, potentially making the water taxi service revenue neutral or even a revenue stream.

Navy Yard corporations should see this sponsorship opportunity as a chance to boost their brand for minimal cost. An obvious choice is Urban Outfitters, whose brand is based on a young, cosmopolitan image. Providing a direct connection to Center City in a glamorous boat service seems almost like a VIP perk. In addition, Urban could use this as marketing a connection to Old City, home to many designers and boutiques. The Courtyard Marriott based in the Navy Yard could sponsor weekend shuttle service as a way to boost their connection to Center City and draw weekend visitors, a time when the Navy Yard and Courtyard are surely near empty. Examples abound of corporate sponsorship for water shuttles, such as the water shuttle service that runs from Manhattan to Brooklyn's Ikea

Surrounding neighborhoods, such as Old City or the Waterfront, could strengthen their connection to a growing employment hub in the Navy Yard, employing over 10,000. With no current residential component in the Navy Yard and a potential Broad Street Line extension a decade or two away, these neighborhoods provide the best connection point to the Navy Yard.

This unique water shuttle service provides the chance for the Navy Yard to strengthen its brand, build up neighborhoods, and support the existing DWRC fleet. With the right corporate sponsorships, this service could be provided for free and come at no cost to DWRC. Everything is in place, it is now time to move the final pieces into place to make this service a reality.

Center City Schools May Soon Collapse Due To Their Own Success

Over the past several years, School District of Philadelphia (SDP) enrollment has been in continuous decline due to lower numbers of school-aged children as well as the sizable growth of charter enrollment. For many of us, all we know is a declining school district, as the District has been shrinking since its 1970 peak of 300,000 to today's 134,000. However, in the midst of this decline is an unforeseen and looming challenge. This challenge, is on on the verge of the tipping point and one that threatens the most successful schools in the District.

This challenge, of schools over capacity and unable to educate any more students, are concentrated in two areas: 'Greater' Center City and the Lower Northeast. The Lower Northeast has seen growing enrollment as immigrants and Black residents have moved to the Lower Northeast, replacing a predominately older-resident White neighborhoods. I have not yet analyzed the data in this area, but know that growth has been sizable and continues to grow. Of particular acute challenge here is Mayor Kenney's plans for Universal Pre-K and Community Schools, both of which would be especially important here given the ELL and income demographics, but may not be possible due to no available space.

The other area which is experiencing overcapacity is the 'Greater' Center City area, which has seen significant population growth, both in middle and upper income residents, as well as Hispanic and Asian immigrants. Many of these schools have seen double-digit enrollment increases. In addition, as I started to review this, I am seeing predominately Black schools that appear to have been over capacity both in 2009 and 2015, that must be further reviewed, especially as it relates to unequal resources. Given the prevailing narrative that low-income Black schools have seen continual decline due to movement to charter schools, I did not expect to identify instances of overcrowding at schools. In a future study, I'd like to parse these numbers.

For data sets, I used the School District of Philadelphia's capacity numbers. Unfortunately, I am not aware of this in Excel format, so it had to be manually entered, thus limiting the scope of my assessment. Enrollment data from 2009 to 2015 was gathered from the School District of Philadelphia's Open Data page

Jackson Elementary saw the largest enrollment growth, of 67% in 6 years. In 2009, it was only at 58% of capacity to today's 99% capacity. The catchment area has remained constant during this time. Every demographic grew in this six year span, but the largest growth is in the Hispanic population (doubling in size), multi-racial and White population. The SDP suppresses demographic data when it is a small size and thus some data suppressed in 2009, so I am not able to compare the initial numbers for multi-racial and White students.

The following Center City schools are over 85% capacity. The SDP has previously cited 85% as the ideal capacity number based on best practices.

  • Greenfield - 90% Capacity;
  • Jackson - 99% Capacity;
  • Kearny - 107% Capacity;
  • Kirkbride - 86% Capacity;
  • McCall - 118% Capacity;
  • Meredith - 123% Capacity;
  • Spring Garden - 108% Capacity;
  • Comegys - 96.1% Capacity; and
  • Powel - 147% Capacity.

This would be one issue if schools were slightly above the 85% metric and were not anticipated to grow much larger. However, this is exactly the opposite of what is happening. In only six years, many of these schools and others have seen double-digit growth. A handful of these, such as Stanton and Arthur, grew due to enlarged catchment areas. However, most of these schools saw no change in their catchment size between 2009 to 2015:

  • Arthur - 28% Growth;
  • Bache-Martin - 15% Growth;
  • Greenfield - 23% Growth;
  • Jackson - 67% Growth;
  • Kirkbride - 43% Growth;
  • McCall - 44% Growth;
  • Meredith - 25% Growth;
  • Nebinger - 41% Growth;
  • Southwark - 40% Growth;
  • Stanton - 57% Growth;
  • Waring - 32% Growth;
  • Ludlow - 21% Growth;
  • Vare - 16% Growth;
  • Powel - 22% Growth.

Given these significant growth numbers, it is anticipated that those that do not currently exceed capacity may soon exceed capacity. Those schools that already exceed capacity are very likely to see continued expansion pressure, pushing these schools to the limit.

It appears that the SDP was not prepared for this, even as recently as the 2011 Facility Master Plan:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.41.14 AM.png

The Facilities Master Plan devotes much of its pages to reducing seats, not expanding seats and indeed, many of the catchments that we discussed show a reduction in school age children or minimal growth.

In contrast to the Facility Master Plan, I've created a Fusion Table showing the percentage growth in these Center City schools: 

Several questions come to mind given the current utilization numbers, six year growth, and anticipated growth:

  • How can Mayor Kenney's plans for Community Schools and Universal Pre-K happen in a school that is over capacity? If there is literally no extra room, how are these programs possible?
  • What is the District's short term and long term plan for these schools? Temporary pods may be a quick fix, but ultimately, a long term solution must be identified. One no-cost solution may be adjusting catchment boundaries so that surrounding under capacity neighborhood schools could balance the numbers out (Full disclosure: My neighborhood school is under capacity and I would gladly accept more students [as long as the resources come as well])
  • What is the District doing to adequately project school capacity and find solutions for pending problems right now? If catchment boundaries will change, it is imperative that this is communicated years in advance. Parents are paying a premium to buy in school catchments, under the assumption that these boundaries will remain fixed. If these boundaries will not remain fixed, there must be a clear transition plan laid out in advance and communicated to all stakeholders. Failing to do so jeopardizes the ability for these capacity problems to be solved.

Given the lack of communication in the school closure process, it concerns me how the SDP is going to handle this. Given the lack of projection to identify capacity issues in previous SDP documents and no public discussion that I am aware of, I am concerned that the SDP is not ready as more schools go over capacity and literally run out of room. It is my hope that this can start to move the conversation forward and decisions are made to address this looming problem right now.